Executive Director Report: First Quarter Signals Progress on Federal Advocacy and Strategic Planning Efforts

June 24, 2013

By Clarence Anthony, NLC Executive Director

Editor's Note: This is the first in a new series of quarterly reports to the membership from Clarence Anthony, NLC's Executive Director.

When I look back at my first six months as Executive Director, I judge the progress of the organization on whether we are being bold and effective in our federal advocacy, providing substantive assistance to city leaders to improve outcomes for residents, reflecting the needs and interests of our diverse membership, and strategically channeling the collective strength of our membership to make progress on behalf of all cities. I am also focused on the organization's internal strength: our financial sustainability and the growth and engagement of our membership so that we have a strong foundation for our advocacy and local best practice goals. On all of these fronts, we have been working hard and making some exciting progress. But looking forward, I am even more excited about the untapped potential of this organization that we can realize together.

We were last all together in Washington in March for our Congressional City Conference, and I hope you could feel the powerful energy of this gathering of city leaders. It was truly amazing to see so many local officials from across the country "Standing Up for Cities." We heard powerful local voices calling on Congress and the Administration to fix America's broken immigration system, end the online sales tax break that robs cities and states of $23 billion each year and protect the tax exemption for municipal bonds. And Washington stood up and took notice. We were joined at this conference by heavy hitters from the Administration and Congress such as: Vice President Biden, Senator John McCain, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Dempsey, and Secretaries Vilsack, Donovan, Sebelius, and Napolitano.

This legislative conference, of course, is just one element of the organization's advocacy work on behalf of cities and towns. NLC President, Mayor Marie Lopez Rogers, has been actively carrying our messages, in Washington and across the country. She is a leader in the national debate on immigration, attended the President's State of the Union address as a guest of the First Lady, Michelle Obama, and joined her fellow Arizonan, U.S. Conference of Mayors President Scott Smith, mayor, Mesa, in a national press conference on the important role tax exempt municipal bonds play in helping grow our local economies and jobs. In addition to her efforts, NLC has been fighting hard to see the Marketplace Fairness Act become law this year - and we're making real progress, with this bill passing the Senate last month. We will also continue the fight with strong coalitions in Washington to protect the municipal bond tax exemption - and, so far, we have.

While the path to progress at the federal level can be uncertain, we know that at home, residents expect their leaders to get the job done: to find common ground, balance the budget, solve problems, and help make their communities stronger. I hope you are taking advantage of all that NLC offers to connect you with proven and promising practices and to support you as a leader in your community.

Over the past six months we've launched technical assistance projects - some that included funding for the participating cities - on a variety of topics, including financial empowerment, health insurance outreach, black male achievement, and access to afterschool meals. NLC continues to lead the First Lady's Let's Move Cities, Towns and Counties campaign, is supporting the Cities United campaign to reduce violent deaths among black men and boys, and is a partner on the new Resilient Cities for America Campaign. In March, First Vice President Mayor Chris Coleman and Second Vice President Mayor Ralph Becker launched the first Mayors' Education Reform Task Force, with a conversation with Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers at the Congressional City Conference; the group will reconvene in July to meet with Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

We have also produced many new publications, hosted webinars, and convened city leaders on diverse topics such as food truck regulation, broadband adoption, municipal leadership in small and mid-sized cities for children and youth, veteran housing, bright spots in civic engagement, education reform, sustainability and resilience, and use of predictive analytics. In April, NLC released important research on local economic conditions that received significant media coverage.

Finally, I take seriously the trust that you have placed in me by selecting me as NLC's new Executive Director, and have been working to ensure that the organization is strong - both in terms of solid finances and a robust membership base -- so that we can best meet our collective goals. Right now we are making important investments in the organization, but are still projected to make a modest contribution to our reserve fund this year.

And on the membership front, I am working to ensure that more cities are welcomed into NLC and that members aren't just satisfied -- I want you to be excited and engaged. To this end, we have been doing a lot of listening: through a survey that over 1,100 members completed, through an open call for the topics you want to see covered and areas of expertise you bring, through numerous phone calls and trips to around the country.

We are seeking to channel this input into a more vibrant, responsive and effective organization. I've spent the last few months working with a task force appointed by NLC President Mayor Marie Lopez Rogers to formulate a bold strategic plan for the organization, and we've realigned ourselves internally to make sure that we are well-positioned to support you. You will be hearing more about the proposed direction of the strategic plan over the summer, and I hope you will take advantage of a variety of opportunities to add your voice to the conversation so that the plan that is developed truly represents our best collective thinking about our future.

You won't want to miss this year's Congress of Cities and Exposition that will be held in Seattle in November The program will cover both need-to-know fundamentals and cutting edge innovations on topics we heard loud and clear are important to you: economic development, financing strategies, transportation and infrastructure, and new approaches to ensure that your residents are safe and secure, well-educated and employed, and civically engaged. We also will be utilizing new formats and technologies to better connect you to the content and contacts you need to succeed. The conference also represents the launch of the new strategic plan -- an opportunity to be very clear about the impact we want to have as an association and how we are going to achieve it. If you haven't already, register now!

Thank you for being on this journey with me and with other city officials from around the country. Together, as one NLC, we are building better communities and a stronger country for our residents.